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Melanie Benjamin Headshot

Where Was the Super Bowl Ad for Books?

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Like everyone else, I just celebrated the National Holiday that is the Super Bowl. And like everyone else, this morning -- the Day After -- I'm discussing the highs and lows. The music: How on earth did Christina Aguilera mess up the lyrics to the National Anthem? And why does she growl so much? The ads: So many movies I can't wait to see; my hormones are exploding at the idea of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford fighting aliens together! The game itself: As a Bears fan, it's tough to be happy for Green Bay but I certainly wasn't rooting for Big Ben.

It's a conversation -- you could say our annual National Conversation. And we're discussing movies, music, sports -- but not books.

And really, why is that? What's stopping a publisher -- or a bunch of publishers together -- from buying a 30 second ad for the Super Bowl? What's stopping publishers from advertising books in places lots of people actually frequent? (And hint -- that's not necessarily The New York Times ' book section.)

We in this industry -- authors, publishers, devoted readers -- moan the fact that books aren't really sexy, compared to all the other forms of entertainment out there. We know we're losing readers, we know that book sales have declined in the past few years. We understand that, in part, this is because there is just so much more to do with our increasingly dwindling "free" time.

Yet we also resist talking about books in ways that might attract new readers. We want books and reading to appeal to the masses -- yet we resist advertising them to the masses.

Look, I know the cost of a Super Bowl ad is ridiculous, and promotional budgets for books aren't exactly what you'd call big. I know that most publishers look for a direct correlation between promotional money spent and sales money earned, and that's something very difficult to quantify in traditional advertising.

In other words, it's always been an axiom in publishing that ads don't sell books -- but perhaps now is the time to test that axiom?

Because at some point, don't you have to take a risk? Dream big? Think outside the box?

Get people talking about books in the same way they talk about movies, music, sports - cultures that have never shied away from traditional advertising?

We keep missing opportunities like the one last night. I don't know how long we can keep missing opportunities like this, frankly. Right now you could argue that reading is becoming sexy again because of all the news about eReaders, but somehow I suspect the heat is all about the device itself, not the content. And that once the dust settles, we might be facing an even tougher time getting people to talk about books and reading.

So c'mon, publishing. Band together, if you must. Why not start in on next year's Super Bowl Ad right now?

That E*Trade baby is precocious as heck. Put him, Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and the Black Eyed Peas together in a Chevy pickup loaded with a bunch of books -- no, wait! Better still, have those Budweiser Clydesdales pulling a draft wagon full of books, which they'll then deliver to a bunch of frat boys eating Doritos.

Well, you get the idea.

And wouldn't it be nice if the Day After next year's Super Bowl, people were chortling about that ad for Random House's spring list, along with how terrible the halftime show was?